Aquatic safety for children with autism: a continuing education course for occupational therapy practice
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Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are at increased risk for accidental injury or death, with the majority of recent reported deaths attributed to drowning (McIlwain & Foster, 2017). Unique differences in motor coordination, sensory processing, and cognitive function which are characteristic of ASD contribute to decreased safety awareness and problematic behaviors such as elopement from caregivers. Despite increasing prevalence of ASD, few communities in the United States have community swimming programs tailored to the specific needs of people with ASD. There is a scarcity of formal training for swimming instructors specifically relating to providing swimming and water safety instruction to people with disabilities. With background in activity analysis and modification, occupational therapy (OT) practitioners present as logical providers of adapted swimming instruction for people with ASD. A continuing education course for OT practitioners is vital to prepare practitioners to provide therapeutic intervention that promotes motor and cognitive skill development for aquatic participation. Using principles from adult learning theory and neuroscience, this continuing education course is structured to support active engagement, peer-assisted learning, and long term retention and application of new learning. Through affiliation with a continuing education provider, dissemination to promote course enrollment, as well as management of course registration fees, can be managed efficiently to expand awareness and minimize funding needed for this course. This continuing education course provides a unique opportunity to expand the role of occupational therapy into swimming and water safety education for children with ASD, and will enable participation in a meaningful leisure occupation for children with ASD and their families.